Throughout the years, it’s easy to use 20/20 hindsight to see who were some of the best wrestlers of all time and who weren’t. Once the 1980’s hit, the focus changed from “making it believable” to “being a star”. There were a number of fantastic in-ring performers over the years who simply never “made it” as a main event star, or even an upper-midcard player.
This is my list of the best of the “almost were” category:
The story of Landell is one that has a wrestling historian scratching his head. He had it all…the look, the ability, the charisma…he was destined to be the “next big thing” in wrestling. Hell, at only 23 years old he was given the moniker “Nature Boy” as a way to set-up a career-changing feud with Ric Flair. The problem, though, was that substance abuse issues held him back in a VERY big way. Apparently, this also led to a battle with depression and then a battle with weight. By the time he had fixed everything in his life, it was way too late to save his career. He was a territorial traveler battled in just about every company you can imagine (including WWE), yet was never able to break through due to his own demons.
Here’s the real head-scratcher of the bunch. While never the largest athlete in the world, Teddy Hart was blessed with any high-flying ability that you can possibly imagine. I’ve seen the man do a standing moonsault from the top of a steel cage…he really had the potential to be a mega-star. Instead, his career has been one of massive under-achievements. He has been charged with having attitude problems (hence his release from WWE), working an unsafe style (hence his not being re-booked with ROH), causing issues backstage (hence his release from TNA), being difficult to work with from a promoter’s point of view (hence his release from Jersey All Pro Wrestling), and a crazy way of garnering massive backstage heat (hence his suspension from AAA in Mexico). Add to that 10+ year of craziness multiple sexual assault charges involving two women in Canada and you’ve got one of the biggest career flushes that I’ve ever seen. So much wasted potential.
If you’ve ever seen classic NWA television programs, then you’re already familiar with the “Mad Dog”. He had a fun “barking dog” gimmick with a chain around his neck, but could also promo when required. He had a great splash from the top rope and was a heat-magnet during his runs in Georgia, Florida, World Class, and Mid-South. His bloody feud with Tommy Rich in the 80’s is known as one of the most brutal feuds of the entire decade. Unfortunately, a hot temper outside of the ring (he was known for bar fights) and drug abuse led to him never getting the push he probably deserved. He died in 1992 in what Billy Jack Haynes says was a well planned hit because the two of them were part-time drug smugglers at the time.
Yes, some may say that his run in TNA has proven that he has “made it”. But come on…being TNA champion doesn’t really mean much, nor has it ever. It’s an indy title that most casual wrestling fans don’t know anything about. He was scheduled to be WWE champion and Vince McMahon‘s “son” during that infamous storyline that ended up with Hornswaggle McMahon (ugh). Why did that all NOT happen? Steroids, plain and simple. It was a one-off Wellness Policy violation, but it happened at the worst possible time. However, WWE was prepared to help him rise through the ranks again before he was suddenly released in 2009. Apparently, both Randy Orton and John Cena complained to Vince McMahon about his in-ring recklessness and that was the last straw. While he’s made a career in wrestling, just think of what he COULD have done.
Perez was one of those “old school” performers who was really into doing things from territory to territory his own way. This way of thinking led to him squandering opportunities when they were presented to him. He had a nice run in World Class as “The Latin Heartthrob” and was a top heel there with Gary Hart acting as his manager. When given a chance to run with the NWA, he had attitude issues backstage which led to his “big push” being dropped. He even walked out of a title match with Ric Flair because he didn’t want to lose the match before moving on to Dusty Rhodes‘ Florida territory. There are even stories that he was at one point scheduled to take the title from Flair, but due to backstage politics and attitude issues it never happened (I never thought he was that “over” to be champion, though). He had a short run with WWE but seemed to be completely clueless as to how he was supposed to display himself (ex: not wanting to wear a jacket to the ring). In addition, his finishing moves were already being used by Tito Santana and Honky Tonk Man, which led to immediate frustration on his part. Wasted talent.
I don’t know if this one can be blamed on the talent, to be honest. Mark Copani was a former OVW Heavyweight Champion and doing very well in WWE’s developmental system. WWE asked him if he would portray an Arab American character, despite being 100% Italian. The gimmick itself was brilliant: an Arab American trying to live his life but having to put up with constant prejudice and racism from the country he was born into simply because of his heritage. The problem, as you can imagine, was that WWE had no idea how to thoroughly write this character in a way that was sympathetic AND heel-ish in nature. The storyline possibilities were endless, especially where Hassan was a great speaker and quite decent in the ring. The end of his career came after a “terrorism angle” where Hassan “summoned” five masked men who were dressed in black shirts, ski-masks, and camoflage pants. They attacked the Undertaker with clubs and piano wire. Three days later there was a bombing attack in London, yet WWE did not remove the footage from their Smackdown international program. This resulted in a massive public-relations backlash against the “openly terrorist” character, in spite of the fact that he had been written as anything BUT that up to that point. Sadly, the man who was scheduled to be the youngest World Heavyweight Champion (breaking Randy Orton‘s record) was let go because UPN was being pressured to keep the Hassan character off of their television. Once released, Copani retired from wrestling entirely. This guy could have been HUGE. What a shame.
Maybe this one won’t be on everybody’s list, but I’m not sure why Burke isn’t a world champion right now somewhere in the world. I mean, this guy has the look, the gift of gab, and the in-ring ability to be a top player in a company if given a solid gimmick and better finisher (sorry “Pope”, but your finisher was never very good). He turned down a part in the Spirit Squad in order to be called up as a cornerman for former MMA fighter Sylvester Terkay. He eventually made his way to in-ring competition on the main roster in both a group (as part of The New Breed) and as a solo performer (in ECW). For whatever reason, WWE took him off of television and was never able to find a place for him on the roster. Once Burke moved to TNA and became “Pope D’Angelo Dinero” in 2009, I really hoped for better results. Despite some close calls, he never really caught on as a major star and let his contract expire in 2013. At 37 years old, his best years are behind him. I’ve never heard of any drug issues or backstage problems with the guy, but rather it was his lack of decent gimmicks that held him back. I really thought this guy could be “the man” at one point.
Somebody explain THIS one to me. I mean, Harris seemed to be the next breakout star from TNA but…what the heck happened? He signed with TNA back in 2002 and joined-up with James Storm as America’s Most Wanted. They were the company’s most successful tag team for the next four years before they both went solo. He feuded with big names like Kurt Angle and Christian Cage, but never took off as a main-event singles competitor (I think primarily due to his history as a tag performer) and was released from his contract in January, 2008. He immediately moved over to WWE and debuted on television in June as Braden Walker. When he showed up for his match, he was noticeably out of shape and didn’t look anything like he did in TNA. He was released after only two televised matches and became an internet joke afterwards. I mean, what in the hell happened? How could you be hired by the #1 company in the world and then decide it was the perfect time to slack off? Man…what this guy could’ve done if he had only applied himself.
Ugh…talk about wasted potential. O’Haire started his career in WCW after training at the Power Plant. He was a tag team partner of Mark Jindrak and Chuck Palumbo (a guy who is a star in Mexico but never made it in the U.S.) and a member of the faction Natural Born Thrillers. They were the only real exciting parts of WCW in 2000 and 2001 when the company was going downhill, in my opinion. They were green, but their size and ability could not be ignored. O’Haire debuted in WWE in June, 2001 and made an immediate impact. Once the failed Invasion angle wrapped up, O’Haire was sent down to OVW for “seasoning”. In January 2003, vignettes appeared on WWE programming that featured O’Haire in a character that online fans were super-excited about. His “devil’s advocate” gimmick had vignettes that had him telling people various things like commit adultery, break the law, not pay taxes, and not go to church. He ended every promo with, “I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.” I remember thinking that this was going to be huge because the character was so unique and he had so much potential. By the time June rolled around, his manager Roddy Piper was released from his contract and the gimmick was dropped. After a motorcycle accident in November, he was sent to OVW again. By April 2004, though, O’Haire had enough and both he and WWE mutually parted ways…leaving a potential main eventer without a path to walk.
It’s been said that if the WWE Network were around in the late 80’s/early 90’s and was able to capture the personality that Armstrong had backstage, that he would have been a world champion multiple times over. The problem with him was two-fold: he was small by industry standards and he couldn’t relay his real-life personality and charisma to his in-ring character. He debuted in 1980 at the tender age of 18, so by the time the industry began to change with smaller wrestlers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels finding success, he was in his early 30’s and one of the best in-ring technicians in the world so his size wouldn’t have been a major issue. The industry, though, was focused (and still is) on marketable characters and larger-than-life personalities. Unfortunately, Armstrong was never able to channel his personality into a way that connected with fans. Probably more than any other wrestler, I think Brad Armstrong was the most talented in-ring performer that never truly broke through to main event status and “made it” in the industry.
This top ten list is, obviously, made up of my own personal opinions…but what are YOUR thoughts? Sound off in a comment below or hit me up on social media and let me know!